DNA sequencing is currently the most common method but this can be expensive, time-consuming, and often depends on finding a good quality sample.
The new method is quicker, cheaper, and uses tooth enamel, the most durable human body tissue and the hardest tissue in the human body. It survives burial well, even when the rest of the skeleton or DNA has decayed.
The breakthrough has the potential to improve studies of archaeological finds and medical and forensic science.
Researchers have tested the method on the remains of seven adults from the late 19th Century as well as male and female pairs from three archaeological sites ranging from 5,700 years ago to the 16th Century in the UK. In each case, the method successfully determined the sex, as confirmed by comparison with coffin plates or standard bone analyses.
The research has been carried out by Dr Nicolas Stewart, senior lecturer in the university’s School of Pharmacy and Biomolecular Sciences, with colleagues at Durham University and the University of São Paulo in Brazil.
They extracted peptides, or chains of amino acid molecules, from tooth enamel and with them they were able to identify sex chromosomes to determine if the teeth were from a male or female.